Sacred bronzes, dressed, adorned, and taken in procession through temple and town are a familiar sight throughout Tamil Nadu and its surrounding areas. But did we know that the practice of parading sacred images in this manner dates back at least 1500 years? And that adorning them with silks and jewels has a similar ancient ancestry?
Dr. Vidya Dehejia gives us glimpses of newly uncovered research material in her recent book, The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855-1280 (Princeton University Press, 2021).
She introduces us to this tradition that reached a peak during the period of Chola rule when master craftsmen created sensuous images for temples, patrons commissioned sets of jewellery to adorn them, and devotees arranged for temple food to be provided to all who attended these festivities. This way of life, that resulted in a congenial and connected community, thrived for centuries, through the British period and into contemporary India, as a vibrant tradition that has inspired devotees and poets, musicians and dancers and, more recently, museums and collectors.
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